'It brings you down to earth and makes you feel quite real'

The province are promoting LauraLynn Children’s Hospice this season.

THIS AFTERNOON’S LEINSTER press conference was a departure from the usual and one that put rugby into perspective.

Normally, it’s over to the province’s clean-cut UCD base, up the stairs to the meeting rooms, and a 15-minute chat with Matt O’Connor and Jamie Heaslip or whoever is designated for media duty on that day.

Jamie Heaslip Leinster captain Heaslip is all for supporting worthy causes. Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Instead, today’s session with the Leinster coach and captain was held at the LauraLynn Children’s Hospice in Foxrock as the province promoted one of their charity partners this season.

National Children’s Hospice Week will run next week from 11 to 15 May, and as the only children’s hospice in Ireland, LauraLynn is clearly an important place.

In their own words, LauraLynn is “a hospice for children with life-limiting conditions and residential care for young adults with disabilities.” With the sun shining over their colourful and calm 3.6 acre grounds on the Leopardstown Road it was easy to see how it’s a place for living, not a sad place.

Jane and Brendan McKenna were the driving force behind LauraLynn after their daughters, Laura and Lynn, died within two years of each other.

One could easily dismiss it as a PR exercise from Leinster at the tail-end of a season that has brought them little but negative press, but that would be a cynical and unfair point of view.

All rugby clubs and provinces are in a position to drive mass exposure for charities and Leinster, to their credit, are doing their bit.

Ireland number eight Heaslip says the players welcome the opportunity to work with the province’s charity partners, particularly as it can so often put their day jobs into perspective.

Jamie Heaslip and Matt O'Connor Heaslip and O'Connor at today's event at LauraLynn. Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

“I think it’s a great thing that Leinster have done in the last couple of years, taking on two charities as our partners for the year and trying to bring attention to the charities for worthy causes,” says Heaslip.

“Also, where possible, we get in and help them. Some of these kids are rugby supporters and trying to bring a light into their day, a lot of the players are ambassadors to various different charities and I think it’s a side of the job that guys enjoy.

“Regardless of if we played a good game or a bad game or we’re going well or not, being able to bring a bit of joy into someone’s life is something that makes you realise that rugby is only a game played by 30 blokes on a field, who at times aren’t the smartest of lads.

We can come in and make a fool of ourselves in front of some kids and make them forget about some real troubles. It brings you down to earth and makes you feel quite real.”

Naturally enough, this afternoon’s press event did turn to Leinster’s on-field prospects as O’Connor’s men look towards a must-win game at home to Italian side Treviso at the RDS tomorrow.

Out of contention for a play-off spot, Leinster must now ensure that they remain in the top six of the Guinness Pro12 after the final two rounds of regular-season fixtures in order to achieve automatic Champions Cup qualification for next season.

“It’s the first time in a while where we’re not playing for silverware,” says Heaslip, “but we very much are playing for something that’s quite tangible for the club. The approach is no different to any other week, to be honest.

Gordon D'Arcy D'Arcy is preparing for what could be his last home game for Leinster. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s a big game for us up against a side who are going well and playing for a lot themselves. You wrap that up into the last home game of the season, it makes for a pretty big occasion for the team anyway.”

As long as Leinster do avoid the Champions Cup qualification play-offs by finishing in the top six, tomorrow will be the last home game for out-half Jimmy Gopperth and possibly veteran centre Gordon D’Arcy.

D’Arcy has announced he will retire at the end of October, but hopes to be involved in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign in the early months of next season.

Leinster hero Shane Jennings is also retiring at the end of this campaign and though not involved in the Treviso game, he will likely be saluted by the RDS crowd.

At this time of any season, it’s always the last time for somebody,” says Heaslip. “The nature of the game is that people move on for whatever reason and different people are moving on from the club this season. It’s always a very poignant time.

“For someone like Gordon, who’s Leinster’s most capped player, I’m sure he’s been relishing everything over the last couple of weeks and the same with Jenno. Jimmy really has tied himself into the group and been an integral part of the group since he first came on the scene with us.

“For all the other guys who are moving on too, [this fortnight] is the last time the group will be training together and playing together. You want to go out on a high.”

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